May 17, 2006
Novartis-tests show new blood pressure drugs work
By Thomas Atkins
ZURICH (Reuters) - Swiss pharmaceutical firm Novartis unveiled data on Wednesday on two new hypertension drugs, Rasilez and Exforge, saying tests had demonstrated they were effective at lowering blood pressure.
The results could prove significant for Novartis given the huge sales potential for treatments for hypertension, thought to affect 1 billion people worldwide and be the No. 1 global killer.
The oral medicine Rasilez is a first-of-a-kind treatment because it acts within the body's renin system, which is central to blood pressure regulation. It may also help protect the patient's organs from blood-pressure-related damage.
Novartis aims to release more study details at the American Society of Hypertension (ASH) meeting later in the day in New York.
Rasilez -- the most important item on the ASH agenda -- is expected to be a multibillion-dollar seller for Novartis.
Analysts expect the new data and physician feedback at the conference to be positive, with Merrill Lynch saying markets may have underestimated the potential for Rasilez. Merrill has said Rasilez has the potential for $1 billion in sales by 2011.
A positive showing could lead to broker upgrades and boost the share prices of Novartis and Speedel, a Swiss biotech firm whose fortunes are heavily dependent on its share of revenues from the product.
Novartis is seeking ways to shore up its cardiovascular and hypertension franchise, currently supported by its drug Diovan, which produced a whopping $3.7 billion in sales in 2005 but will lose its patent protection in 2012.
Separately, Novartis released new data on Exforge, a once-daily tablet that combines two blood-pressure treatments -- Novartis's valsartan, which it markets under the name of Diovan, and amlodipine, which Pfizer Inc markets as Norvasc.
The first results available from late-stage trials showed that Exforge provided strong blood pressure reduction in patients with severe to moderate hypertension, Novartis said.
Studies showed that the two Exforge mechanisms helped more than 80 percent of patients studied reach their blood pressure goals; the drug was shown to be safe and well-tolerated in the overall clinical program involving more than 5,000 patients.
In April, Novartis filed 2-in-1 pill Exforge for regulatory approval with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, after filing the drug in Europe in March.
Analysts say Exforge could garner around $500 million a year after launch, which they are pencilling in for the end of 2007 or early 2008.